For a woman used to solitude the hubbub of the Families in Global Transition 2013 conference in Silver Spring last week whilst energizing was also at times overwhelming. The speakers, thought provoking and articulate from a raft of nations, filled my head with new theses, new takes on old ideas and sometimes, unexplored feelings.
Needing to disengage from the swirling words, and space to recalibrate, I took myself off for a mug of what I had been promised by a new acquaintance would be ‘proper builder’s tea’ with real milk, not some reconstituted stuff from a sachet.
Orange and white barriers, rather like tall cavaletti, and a steel armoured truck barricaded the street. Seeing no police tape I proceeded with caution, realising I was in the midst of the determined bustle of market day set up. Making my way to the green awning of the recommended establishment I purchased my tea and took a seat behind the plate glass window, and watched the world outside.
Earmuffs, beanies and red noses gave testament to the nip in the morning air as men and women scurried with boxes and baskets overflowing with produce. Red and white checked clothes or plastic ones promising sunshine and palms, fluttered onto the trestle tables, shaken briskly from their folds by stallholders. One figure, from behind I couldn’t tell whether male or female, hastily pulled thick gloves back on once the task of setting up an electronic scale was completed.
Apples, dressed in crisp red and green, competed for space with pears and potatoes. Legumes jostled with jar upon jar of honey. Some thick and creamy, others clear and light golden, others still a rich dark molasses. A popcorn machine was being readied for popping, and a gas grill primed for the slabs of raw meat and sausages lying ready for the sauce, similar to the bottles on sale nearby.
Two small, darker skinned boys, maybe three or four, raced past not quite in control of their pedals, their mother, or maybe a minder, hurried after them. Another woman, ears plugged into an I-pod pushed an infant hidden from the world under a green quilted muff, and I hoped she would switch off her electronics once the child awoke. Another, joyous in the new found freedom offered by chunky legs clad in grapefruit-coloured trousers, her hands and head covered in matching tangerine and magenta striped wool, stuttered along the pavement; followed by a couple delighting in her progress.
A black shadow, stark against the citrus green of a storefront, caught my eye. The sombre suit incongruous amongst the colour. A straw boater exposed his ears to the chill, a blond beard framed red-raw cheeks and chin. A single Mennonite amongst the throng, yet equally at ease and busy.
Two pugs tangled their leashes around an Asian woman’s booted legs as she struggled to open her purse and pay for an armful of collards thrust at the seller. The nipping and yipping dogs took little notice of her entreaties to ‘sit’; a word easily lip-read from my perch at the counter.
Directly outside the window sitting on a metal chair, was a man who reminded me of my daughter’s partner. He hunched inside his jacket but still looked cold, a man from the islands more used to tropical climes. His kind face crinkled as he petted his pseudo-poodle, eagerly trying to befriend any passer by.
On one side of me in the warmth was a man, Ethiopian I thought, wearing a fluorescent yellow tracksuit, thumbs punching an I-phone. On the other a Japanese girl, glossy hair escaping a sky blue beret, rustled the pages as she scanned her New York Times.
Colours and creeds of all humanity passed my window in Silver Spring. Reinforcement of all that Families in Global Transition advocate. Cultures do cross borders and it is up to us, travellers or homebodies, to smile, adapt, accept and respect each others space, wherever it is.
I returned to the conference, refreshed and ready to learn more. (www.figt.org)